The Evolution Starts Now

Steve Earle saunters into town; hopefully, Oakley Hall can teach him some new tricks

Though not exactly amateurs (this is their fourth record, and first for Merge), Oakley Hall can still teach Earle something about youthful aggression, and he can still teach them something about articulating it, whether politically, romantically, or sonically. You can argue that he's got a formula, an uneasy mixture of horizon-gazing transience and socio-religious portent: Serenade's "Jericho Road" is the first song Steve Earle has released named "Jericho Road," and feels like the 6,000th. But this style has pushed him to towering heights not many can aspire to, and I'll Follow You suggests another band that can.

Both are invaluable to New York City, even if their relationship to this place is suspicious and frayed or subverted entirely. Exactly a decade ago, on El Corazón, Earle unleashed "N.Y.C.," an unusually bombastic highway tune with a chorus worthy of the finest cock-rock—speed it up enough and it'd sound like Avril Lavigne. Its plot is deliciously simple: He winds his way up to New York, hits on the pretty girls, gets brutally shot down, and flees immediately back to Tennessee. Now he's brought the pretty girl here with him to avoid any such calamities, and if as a result he's a little more complacent, the fire's still there, still quite possibly all-consuming. You see flashes of that all over I'll Follow You—"Best of Luck" is a delicate but determined up-tempo jammer with a catchy Replacements riff caught in its teeth. Together, these two entities can rebuild and invigorate the New York City that Earle seems to lament as lost—a strident, vibrant, deeply personal but universally appealing utopia that flyover countrymen will long for, but MTV can't possibly replicate.


Steve Earle plays Town Hall September 26; Oakley Hall play Bowery Ballroom October 13. The-townhall-nyc.org or boweryballroom.com

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